Great product leaders make strong product people – Petra Wille on The Product Experience "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs December 12 2021 False Podcasts, Product leadership, The Product Experience, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 6025 Petra, Podcast, The Product Experience Product Management 24.1

Great product leaders make strong product people – Petra Wille on The Product Experience

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One great product person can do some amazing things.  An entire team of great product people is a force multiplier, creating an environment that is far more than the sum of its parts.  We talked with Petra Wille – Coach, Author & co-creator of MTP Engage/Hamburg – about what it takes to 10x your team.

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Featured Links: Follow Petra on LinkedIn and Twitter | Petra’s website: Strong Product People | The PM wheel Framework | Buy Petra’s book ‘Strong Product People’ |‘A Better Shipyard’ – Joff Redfern on The Product Experience

Episode transcript

Lily Smith: 

Hi, Randy, do you think you’re a good product leader?

Randy Silver: 

Well, I think I’m a better leader than I am a product manager at this point. I mean, I’ve worked with lots of people who are a lot better than I am at different parts of the job. And what I really love these days is putting them in situations where they can do an amazing job.

Lily Smith: 

See, living in England sure is having a very British effect on you. You’re being all humble and stuff. I bet you are pretty good. And I know you’re very good at the coaching side of things. But just in case you wanted to get even better, I have the best guest for you tonight.

Randy Silver: 

Okay, I totally know who you’re talking about. Before we talk about her and her amazing book. Willie, you need to answer the question and stop avoiding talking about yourself. Are you a good product leader?

Lily Smith: 

Ah, yes, I’m amazing. I think you’re American, for me. But honestly, I must be pretty great after doing this podcast and getting one to one coaching from such great product people for such a long time.

Randy Silver: 

Okay, I’m glad to hear you think so. But let’s find out if you still think the same thing after we talk with the one and only Petra villa.

Lily Smith: 

She’s the author of strong product people A Complete Guide to developing great product managers. And it’s got a lot of amazing stuff in it. So let’s get to it. The product experience is brought to buy mind the product.

Randy Silver: 

Every week, we talk to the best product people from around the globe about how we can improve our practice, and build products that

Lily Smith: 

people love. Because it mind the product.com to catch up on past episodes and to discover an extensive library of great content and videos,

Randy Silver: 

browse for free, or become a mind the product member to unlock premium articles, unseen videos, amas roundtables, discounts to our conferences around the world training opportunities.

Lily Smith: 

mining product also offers free product tank meetups in more than 200 cities. And there’s probably one.

Randy Silver: 

Petra, it’s been so long since we had you on the podcast. Welcome back. Finally. So for anyone who didn’t listen to your first episode, or hasn’t read your book, or any of that, just can you give us a very quick intro remind people? How did you get into product? And what are you doing these days,

Petra Wille: 

these days starting with that, first I’m a product leadership coach and really focusing on coaching product leads one on one, so to say and help them to become better in what they do, hopefully improving the product organisation and hopefully help the product organisation to create better products. So that’s kind of what I’m doing these days full, full time. And my way into product was pretty boring. So was the developer first studied information technology. That’s what it was called in Germany. So pretty classical. And then slowly via sa P bigger company, and then several smaller companies into my product management roles. So so it all to some extent. Yeah. And in 2013, I just like decided to try if interim product leadership roles are a thing. And it was luckily, so I became a freelance product leader back at the time. And that kind of naturally became a coaching thing. And that’s what I’m focusing on today.

Lily Smith: 

What made you look for interim product leadership roles? I’m curious, what kind of sparked your interest there?

Petra Wille: 

Yes, I actually always were interested in working independently on a freelance basis. And because I was holding a head of product role at the last full time contracts I get so to say, I was interested in is there a possibility to do the current role in a more interim setup. And it was quite a thing, at least in Germany because of parental leaves are so long here. So it’s 12 months, sometimes it’s 24 months, people are off for quite Yeah, an amount of time. And it makes sense to find an interims head of product if somebody is on metodo parentally for that long time. So yeah, it was actually nice. I had the sneak peeks into so many different companies and their product culture. And it turned out to be a really rewarding role as well. So yeah,

Lily Smith: 

I was gonna say imagine that sort of facilitated a lot of learning because you get to see how a lot of different organisations operate.

Petra Wille: 

Yeah, exactly. And so many different characters and yeah, conflicts and different maturity models of product organisation, so to say so yeah, there was a nice, yeah, ramp up for the coaching career so to say

Randy Silver: 

It’s exactly what I’m doing at the moment in the UK, Scott similar goes on maternity leave. And I’m lucky enough to be doing one of those worlds right now. And yeah, I couldn’t recommend it enough. It’s a lot of fun.

Petra Wille: 

Yeah, isn’t it? Yeah, super cool.

Randy Silver: 

So one of the things that’s kind of a prerequisite for doing the job well was having a clear understanding of what it actually means to be a head of product. And I’m not sure that everyone fully gets it. It’s this whole thing of, oh, you manage other product people. But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?

Petra Wille: 

Yeah. At least from my perspective, and there are various so there are various perspectives out there, what great product leaders should be actually doing and how they should spend their time. But for me, a really integral part is this, defining what makes a competent product manager in your own perspective? So it’s not so much about what’s out there? Because there’s so many things written on all these blogs out there about what is the role of a product manager? What is the role of a product owner, all these kinds of things, but for me, it’s more like, Okay, if you’re start with product leadership, or are in a product leadership role for quite some time, and have never reflected on, okay, what’s my personal benchmarks? How does the competent product person look like, on my end, then I would strongly encourage people to do so. Because that really unblocks you with all your one on ones and career conversations with your product folks, helps you to hire a great team of product people, if you have this kind of okay, that’s the bar that I’m setting. And you have it not implicitly but explicitly in writing so that you can share it with your peers and directs. That is one of the important things. So to say. So this this definition of good, but it is maybe Randy, if it’s okay to and I can a bit elaborate a bit more on that. So that is the people part of the head of product or product leadership role. And besides of the people part, there is the product part for sure. So what is the product strategy? Where are we headed direction of clarity, alignment, these are the things we’re talking about here. So that for sure is something that a product leader should be able to do and to add to the product organisation. And it’s a lot about processes. So I borrowed his metaphor from Jeff Redfern. That is, he’s actually said that it’s a bit like building the shipyard around the teams that are building the boats and the vessels and to ships. So how should this shipyard look like, what’s the layout of the shipyard what material is needed, all these kind of things. So that’s a nice metaphor for the process, part of the role. So it really is people process and product. And if a company not yet has found product market fit, you could actually, product and purpose could be something you experiment with. So maybe if you’re like a early stage startup, and it’s more about purpose, people, and process and product comes later, once you’ve found product market fit. That’s really interesting.

Randy Silver: 

So we’ve had Jeff on the podcast, and he talked about that and reading your book again over the weekend, it was a long time ago is reading your book again over the weekend. And I was thinking about that metaphor a bit. And I was thinking about religion in relation to some of the jobs I’ve had. And from my perspective, I totally agree it’s about building the shipyard it’s about building the capability so that other people can build great products and do amazing work. But there’s also potentially a problem with it at the level of our the peers of the product leader, which is they can say, Wow, that’s a great shipyard you have there, it’s a shame, the ships are so awful. You know, it’s gotta produce good stuff. Right? So how do you? How do you balance that with, with your peers with the with the other members of the leadership team?

Petra Wille: 

Cool. It really depends you need to so that is something that you need to kind of really dive deep into, is it more of a conflict between the peers? Or is it really the case that exactly, that’s why you need to have this definition of competent product manager. Because if you have this and if all your people are understanding the role and want the role and have the capacity that it takes to actually fulfil the role, and the ships are still a bet. And it’s a completely different discussion you should be having with your peers, because then it’s maybe about, okay, if the product people are competent and shewing, the engineering team does something similar and the interaction design folks do something similar and all the other roles that you’re having are at this competent level, then it’s more a processing thing you have to look into. And maybe it is just a case that nobody actually invested enough time in coaching the people around, or nobody actually really spent the time with the folks With proper onboarding and setting them up for success, and investing a bit in them, so that is often the case, I use this GW C framework in the book, which is like, gets it once it has the capacity to do it. So it’s a bit of a reflection on a team that you could be doing. And if I think about, Okay, does this person get what the roll is all about? And the answer is no. And it’s often on me, in my leadership role, that I haven’t spend enough time with them to explain what we think a product person should do. And it actually works with old roles, right? It’s not only a product, and then sometimes they understand it, but unwanted another thing, then you might find another seat for them. Or maybe it’s a capacity thing. And that can be just like a mental capacity thing. Maybe they currently get divorced and don’t have the bandwidth to do their best work with the team. And it’s maybe a bit of Be patient and weighed. Or maybe it’s just like a training that they need because of GDPR rules changed. And they don’t have the capacity knowledge wise, and you could help fixing them that. And what about

Lily Smith: 

for those who are aspiring product leaders? What’s a good sign that you’re ready to take that next step into leadership? I mean, I know a lot of people who, you know, want to spend more time really honing the craft of like, the individual contributor product role, before they then become a product leader, but it is, it is quite a different role, actually. So yeah, you know, do you do you actually really need to be an amazing, individual contributor before you step into that leadership role?

Petra Wille: 

So so many product coaches of the last few years, I thought I have a pretty clear answer to that. But I learned that it’s not that easy. It’s always in product, right? It depends. So I saw really brilliant product leaders who never work in product. But they invested a lot of time in understanding how things actually work. They really like laid back letting their best product people do the work. So they have different management styles. So to say, didn’t focus on this, okay, is there enough clarity and, and alignment in the system? Can I help to kind of foster these kind of things. So then they focus more on that and really focus on the coaching part, because coaching is not giving advice and help people to figure out what they should do next. It’s more about asking the right question at the right time. And if you don’t have that much product experience, I think there is still a way to go. But these people are born leaders to some extent, even if I say in the book, there is not such a thing, like a born leader, we all need to learn these things. But some people have more this natural tendency of being good, high EQ. So they’re good communicators, they’re good in handling tension, and all these kinds of things. So if that is a thing that is easier on you, and you’re maybe not the best product person on the planet, I would still encourage people to maybe try to transform into a product leadership role. The biggest difference from my point of view is really this kind of, Am I ready to? Yeah, join the dark side, so to say, because there are so many decisions that you make in a leadership role, that that may be unpopular, hard to communicate on behalf of the company, not 100% on behalf of all the individual person on the team and stuff like this. And that is maybe the biggest change when you’re actually moving in your first product leadership role. So you need to be ready for handling these kinds of things, I’d say.

Randy Silver: 

So how much of my time should I actually be spending on improving my people versus everything else that I need to be doing? And, you know, I’m an individual contributor in terms of how I work on developing strategy and any number of other things with my peers. But the team that reports me how much of my time should I be spending on on trying to improve them? And how should I do it?

Petra Wille: 

So what I think he really helps us kind of understand once you are in a leadership role, then you have role then you have impact through others. So you should not be the one creating all these things and pushing all the projects and all these kinds of things. It’s more of okay, how can I set my team up for success? What information needs to flow freely so that they can picture the bright future that I can see for products and all these kind of things? Right? Yeah, and if we if we count all of that into coaching and direction setting and clarity, then it’s more or less 100% of your time. You’re repeating the same messages. over and over again, all these kinds of things, you’re constantly investing in your teams in your people think about what? Yeah, what are the things that need to have at hand, where to apply a bit more structure, where to keep things more lean? So all these questions, so there is no really rule of thumb. But I see a lot of product leads not investing time with their product people at all. So that is actually something that I see a lot. one on ones are in the calendar, monthly, maybe bi weekly. But often people digital last minute or everybody comes unprepared. It’s more of a complaining session. And if that sounds familiar, I would encourage you to, to really rethink this kind of one on one routine and really think about, okay, how could I help this person to become better, because if every product manager gets better at your team, then the whole product or organisation will evolve over time. And you might have the more attractive product organisations is super interesting these days when everybody’s kind of leaving jobs and leaving their current employers roaming around looking for the next. Next company to join. So yeah, if you invest in your people, the people will be seeing this from the outside as well and are more likely to join. And if you invest in your people, the people that are already on board are more likely to stay with you. So it is I think, a good good investment.

Lily Smith: 

And let’s talk about one to ones, because that is a real opportunity there to develop your your product people. And as a product person to get the most out of your head of product or your product leader that you’re working with. What advice do you give people for this session? Like? How do you suggest people structure it?

Petra Wille: 

Um, I think there is. So there’s various forms of come prepared. So to say, I think the so the easiest version of come prepared is really compile a list of great questions that help spark meaningful conversation wants to do a one on one situation. So a lot of a lot of products that I know have this kind of 15 to 20 questions that they could use when they need to run to a one on one because it’s usually what we do, right? So time is a scarce resource. So we’ve run to a one on one. Try not to miss them and digital last minute. And it’s way better to have kind of 15 to 20 meaningful questions that could help start more of a coaching situation and not so much. Okay, what are currently working on. So the status report character of the one on ones is something that I try to avoid as often as possible. I think they’re better formats for updates, like create a product task board and stand ups so that the teams can kind of update each other, and you get the information as well. So focus more on, hey, what have you learned this week? Are you happy with that? Is there a next big challenge that you’re dreaming about or all these so questions like this could be something on your list, and helps you to prepare last minute. So that’s the first thing I usually recommend preparing the last minute preparation fix. And then the other thing is like if you have a bit more time, and I really think it makes sense to create your competent Product Manager compass so that you have something that actually you could discuss in a one on one sessions to identify gaps that the people are having. And that’s way easier if you have like, okay, that’s what product people usually do in our company. And that’s all of the things that you do. And there are two gaps here that we might want to discuss. Are you interested in that? Or do you think it’s not applicable to your current setup, maybe that might be the case as well. And if you found this gaps and something both parties would like to work on, so to say, then you could create a future self with your product, folks, because sometimes it’s super hard to have to think about ways to learn a new thing or to improve a certain skill, or, yeah, to unlearn reflexes that we all having maybe. And that is really nice if you create some kind of a development plan with them, and then ask them how often they want you to follow up on that. So bit of nudging, but it’s totally on them to learn something new to build a new skill capability or competence. But you could help with the nudging with a bit of the framing with the time you invest in these conversations. So that is but that is then the real one on one more strategical one on one people development format, so to say,

Lily Smith: 

yeah, I really like that. I imagine there’s lots of people who could really do with a helping hand on the structure, and I think it’s often used as an opportunity to update or kind of dictate. This is what you need to do next. instead, yeah, explore more of these topics. Yeah,

Petra Wille: 

maybe there’s one thing I can add. And it’s kind of I just like wrote a blog post last week or something that is about product management assessments, and not so much for assessing the whole team and compare all the individuals against each other. It’s more about you in a product leadership role. Compare this person to your competent Product Manager definition. And I created such a framework, I call it the pm wheel, it’s actually on my website, you can download the PDF, but I blogged about other frameworks that are out there. So that you have a starting point for these conversations, sometimes it’s super hard to come up with that on your own, and then just use one of the assessments out there, and just like highly customise it to your needs, and then that could be something you could be using in these conversations. And we’ve talked a lot

Lily Smith: 

about the human side of being a product manager. But earlier, you kind of implied that, you know, we’re looking at process and priority and it’s quite operational as well. When I say human, I mean, they’re the kind of people people manage people management,

Petra Wille: 

and stakeholder management, maybe as well.

Lily Smith: 

Yeah, exactly. So that, is there anything else if you are gonna explore sort of the topic of what makes a great boss or a great product leader? Is there anything else that kind of comes under that heading that we haven’t sort of touched on?

Petra Wille: 

Yeah, so product people. So talking about individual contributors still and Product Manager wise, I usually advise people that I think about, okay, personality trades they actually looking for when they go search for product people. So that is one thing. And for example, for me, and this is something you should, it’s your own reflection again, right. But just to give you an example. So for me this kind of curiosity, I’m always interested to see this kind of light in the eye of a product person if they get tasked with something new, or a new product or new market industry that they’re looking into. Because that is usually what all of us are interested in, right? What makes the world go round. So to say, or adaptability is something that I always try to find is because things are changing at a really rapid speeds when working in product. And if people are not good and dealing with that, maybe they will never become really like a stellar product person or something like that. Not that they cannot be a decent product manager. But if you want to build a great team, maybe your your should hire, so to say. So that is one thing. So think about personality traits in your product people. And then when you said like when thinking about a great boss, and what we actually would look for when we think about that, and to me, it is like what you already said. So that’s really be a human being moslem for all. I think that’s what the great leaders are all have in common. So that is important than to me, it always was important to be opinionated, but super adaptable. So I always found it super hard to work with bosses that had this kind of, I don’t mind you figure it out attitudes. For me, it was easy if they had a strong opinion. But then we’re really happy to negotiate and to discuss and to learn new things about the thing where they had an opinion about, then it’s a lot of sounds super old school, but the leading by example thing. So if you want your people to be on time, try to be on time and really kind of Yeah, thankful that everybody was on time and not wasting anybody’s time and these kind of things. healthy attitude towards work, I think is what makes a great boss as well. So really, yeah, really have two great performance cultures. So you love to do great products on behalf of your customers that make the company successful or good. But all of us have a life as well. So really balanced that and make sure that people understand that it’s kind of work life balance thing. And another thing that I think right product leaders should have is an impact on the overall company or organisation. That’s not something that you usually have to focus on when you still are on an individual contributor level. For sure you talk to stakeholders, and maybe you have a positive impact on on them. But if you’re in a product leadership role, you should actually yeah, be in line with your peers spend a lot of time with them. Try to unblock the product organisation, the Product Development Organisation in some sort of form. So yeah, that are the things that I Just come to my mind,

Randy Silver: 

let’s, let’s go a little bit into that and might come back to the pm wheel a little bit as well. So if you’re trying to unblock as the leader, when you’re assessing how well your product team is doing, you can look at it from the perspective of all those different things on the wheel. But also knowing that the perception of them by some of their stakeholders is simply going to be based on delivery. And sometimes the circumstance is such that its delivery is really hard for any number of reasons. Have you evaluate people who might be doing a great job, but for whatever reason, aren’t actually delivering a business result? Are they still a good product manager?

Petra Wille: 

Yeah, so do you attack? Yeah, that is so hard question. Randy. I’m sorry. Yeah, no, it’s good. Um, the short answer is no. Because as a product person you’re ultimately responsible for, for the results. But as you were saying, there’s so many things it, especially the larger the organisation gets, the harder it is to make an impact as a single product person. And sometimes it’s easy to be tasked with a product that has tonnes of technical depth, for example. And then, yeah, to make the smallest change for your customers, or clients takes ages. But usually, if that is the case, that applies for most of the teams in this company, right. So benchmarking, some benchmarking across industries or something like this. That is something I would totally not recommend people like to do this. But it is not helpful. So benchmarking in your own product organisation may be an okayish idea. But to me, it was always better to have this kind of individual take on. Yeah, assessing product people, because I know what team I put them in, if that is part of my job. So stuffing is not always on the menu. I know. But if I have decided who will be working on which team, then it can, to some extent is my responsibility to actually kind of, yeah, take this into account when I do a benchmarking as well, right. And look, a lot of the companies that I know do do this kind of across the team across boards, but not really with heart figures. It’s more of a discussion how people are doing and what obstacles they actually have to face and what are the monsters in their code base and these kinds of things. So yeah, benchmarking is a dangerous piece, so to say. So I’m not sure if I’m a big fan of benchmarking.

Lily Smith: 

I was just think, trying to choose which questions for our sticks, because we’re like running out of time already. I was like, looking at the clock going, I can’t believe it’s nearly

Petra Wille: 

Okay, pick your Joker question.

Lily Smith: 

Yeah, exactly. So if I think about some of the different organisations like I’ve generally worked in quite small organisations, probably the biggest product team was around eight product people. But I know some of the people that we’ve spoken to on the podcast literally have 10s of if not hundreds of product people, by some way, shape or form reporting into them. How do you manage effectively across scale when in a product organisation? And I realised that’s a massive question? Take your pick, maybe one tip.

Petra Wille: 

The thing is, I would love to talk to people that figured out how to have effective with we have more than six to maximum 10 direct reports in the product role, where you have to take care of the product, the process and the people. So some companies split those three and then other people are responsible for product strategy. So for example, in really mature product organisation, product managers are responsible for their product strategy, head of product or product leadership is not so much dealing with these things right, then it might be possible to have a larger span. I’ve just not yet seen it working well. Somewhere if you have too many direct reports. And then scaling is like in hierarchy, which is an really unpopular answer because it’s really like okay, that’s so management one to one point. If you talk about hierarchies and direct reports pyramid, so to say, but I haven’t found a better answer yet. You could. So Some companies like to create a specialised roles across the board. So like product operations, or the QA department and the user research folks over here, that works to some extent as well, obviously, if you really make clear what these roles are responsible for, and every company, again, has to find their own definition. And to play a bit with these specialised roles, if you’re not a big fan of specialised roles, yeah, then it’s really in creating product team leads and helping them to become better product leaders as well, I guess. Yeah. But it’s a massive question. And the short answer.

Randy Silver: 

Okay. Well, let’s do one last question on this then. And because we really disciplined, fantastic, but we’re going to run out of time really quickly. So when you’re hiring, what are one or two things that you look for, you know, regardless of what the role is, regardless of what the company is, if you’re looking for a product person, are there one or two things that you say I can, there are things I can teach, but there are things I need the person to, to just have any li

Petra Wille: 

Yeah, to me, it is kind of the six personality traits that I put on my list and asset you need to come up with your own. But to me, this is kind of curiosity was already talking about this, its adaptability to meet its intellectual horsepower. And so really want to see if the circuits are fast enough to kind of understand all the bits and pieces that every product person has to parse every day, so to say, and then it’s Yeah, wants to make an impact. Because otherwise all this curiosity and adaptive adaptability takes us nowhere. So people need Yeah, to have this kind of, I really want to score to some extent. So that is an important thing. And then, is emotional intelligence, not forgetting to mention that plus, I still don’t know how to put this best. It’s kind of nice to spend time with or sometimes they call it humour. Because that helps a lot of people think like, okay, the product person is a great person to have on their team. And it’s just, like, nice to hang out with them. That alone doesn’t do the trick, I know. But in combination with the other five personality traits, plus the skills and competences I think that is at least a starting point.

Randy Silver: 

I’d be afraid to interview with you. I want to if you ever judged me as short on intellectual horsepower or any of those other traits, I feel awful.

Petra Wille: 

No, we would go we would go in front of a whiteboard and he would do a stellar job I’m convinced.

Randy Silver: 

I look forward to the day when we can get together in front of a why and do some of this code. Patrick, thank you so much for joining us in you know we mentioned in the introduction but the book is called strong product people A Complete Guide to developing great product managers available in better bookstores and websites everywhere and link to in our show notes along with lots of other fun things.

Petra Wille: 

Thanks for having me

Randy Silver: 

So Billy, I’ve been thinking petrous book you know strong product people. I think it’s you know, if you haven’t bought something for product people in your life, it’s gonna make a great stocking stuffer,

Lily Smith: 

stocking stuffer. Don’t you mean a stocking filler? And are you just like Mega hinting to me right now?

Randy Silver: 

Well, I’ve got a copy for myself already. So maybe I should put one for you.

Lily Smith: 

I would love one I actually don’t have a copy yet. So that is right up there. The top of my next book to read thoroughly list.

Randy Silver: 

Excellent. Well, if you don’t have it, please go do get a copy or hint to your boss or somebody in your life. Because it’s a really good read. We’ll see you next week. Tata for

Lily Smith: 

now. Haste, me, Lily Smith and

Randy Silver: 

me Randy silver.

Lily Smith: 

Emily Tate is our producer. And Luke Smith is our editor.

Randy Silver: 

Our theme music is from humbard baseband power that’s P A you thanks to Ana killer who runs product tank and MTP engage in Hamburg and please based in the band for letting us use their music. Connect with your local product community via product tank or regular free meetups in over 200 cities worldwide.

Lily Smith: 

If there’s no one near you, you can consider starting one yourself. To find out more go to mind the product.com forward slash product tank

Randy Silver: 

product tech is global community of meetups during buying for product people, we offer expert talks group discussion and a safe environment for product people to come together and share burnings and tips.

One great product person can do some amazing things.  An entire team of great product people is a force multiplier, creating an environment that is far more than the sum of its parts.  We talked with Petra Wille - Coach, Author & co-creator of MTP Engage/Hamburg - about what it takes to 10x your team. More episodes...
Featured Links: Follow Petra on LinkedIn and Twitter | Petra's website: Strong Product People | The PM wheel Framework | Buy Petra's book 'Strong Product People' |'A Better Shipyard' - Joff Redfern on The Product Experience

Episode transcript

Lily Smith:  Hi, Randy, do you think you're a good product leader? Randy Silver:  Well, I think I'm a better leader than I am a product manager at this point. I mean, I've worked with lots of people who are a lot better than I am at different parts of the job. And what I really love these days is putting them in situations where they can do an amazing job. Lily Smith:  See, living in England sure is having a very British effect on you. You're being all humble and stuff. I bet you are pretty good. And I know you're very good at the coaching side of things. But just in case you wanted to get even better, I have the best guest for you tonight. Randy Silver:  Okay, I totally know who you're talking about. Before we talk about her and her amazing book. Willie, you need to answer the question and stop avoiding talking about yourself. Are you a good product leader? Lily Smith:  Ah, yes, I'm amazing. I think you're American, for me. But honestly, I must be pretty great after doing this podcast and getting one to one coaching from such great product people for such a long time. Randy Silver:  Okay, I'm glad to hear you think so. But let's find out if you still think the same thing after we talk with the one and only Petra villa. Lily Smith:  She's the author of strong product people A Complete Guide to developing great product managers. And it's got a lot of amazing stuff in it. So let's get to it. The product experience is brought to buy mind the product. Randy Silver:  Every week, we talk to the best product people from around the globe about how we can improve our practice, and build products that Lily Smith:  people love. Because it mind the product.com to catch up on past episodes and to discover an extensive library of great content and videos, Randy Silver:  browse for free, or become a mind the product member to unlock premium articles, unseen videos, amas roundtables, discounts to our conferences around the world training opportunities. Lily Smith:  mining product also offers free product tank meetups in more than 200 cities. And there's probably one. Randy Silver:  Petra, it's been so long since we had you on the podcast. Welcome back. Finally. So for anyone who didn't listen to your first episode, or hasn't read your book, or any of that, just can you give us a very quick intro remind people? How did you get into product? And what are you doing these days, Petra Wille:  these days starting with that, first I'm a product leadership coach and really focusing on coaching product leads one on one, so to say and help them to become better in what they do, hopefully improving the product organisation and hopefully help the product organisation to create better products. So that's kind of what I'm doing these days full, full time. And my way into product was pretty boring. So was the developer first studied information technology. That's what it was called in Germany. So pretty classical. And then slowly via sa P bigger company, and then several smaller companies into my product management roles. So so it all to some extent. Yeah. And in 2013, I just like decided to try if interim product leadership roles are a thing. And it was luckily, so I became a freelance product leader back at the time. And that kind of naturally became a coaching thing. And that's what I'm focusing on today. Lily Smith:  What made you look for interim product leadership roles? I'm curious, what kind of sparked your interest there? Petra Wille:  Yes, I actually always were interested in working independently on a freelance basis. And because I was holding a head of product role at the last full time contracts I get so to say, I was interested in is there a possibility to do the current role in a more interim setup. And it was quite a thing, at least in Germany because of parental leaves are so long here. So it's 12 months, sometimes it's 24 months, people are off for quite Yeah, an amount of time. And it makes sense to find an interims head of product if somebody is on metodo parentally for that long time. So yeah, it was actually nice. I had the sneak peeks into so many different companies and their product culture. And it turned out to be a really rewarding role as well. So yeah, Lily Smith:  I was gonna say imagine that sort of facilitated a lot of learning because you get to see how a lot of different organisations operate. Petra Wille:  Yeah, exactly. And so many different characters and yeah, conflicts and different maturity models of product organisation, so to say so yeah, there was a nice, yeah, ramp up for the coaching career so to say Randy Silver:  It's exactly what I'm doing at the moment in the UK, Scott similar goes on maternity leave. And I'm lucky enough to be doing one of those worlds right now. And yeah, I couldn't recommend it enough. It's a lot of fun. Petra Wille:  Yeah, isn't it? Yeah, super cool. Randy Silver:  So one of the things that's kind of a prerequisite for doing the job well was having a clear understanding of what it actually means to be a head of product. And I'm not sure that everyone fully gets it. It's this whole thing of, oh, you manage other product people. But there's more to it than that, isn't there? Petra Wille:  Yeah. At least from my perspective, and there are various so there are various perspectives out there, what great product leaders should be actually doing and how they should spend their time. But for me, a really integral part is this, defining what makes a competent product manager in your own perspective? So it's not so much about what's out there? Because there's so many things written on all these blogs out there about what is the role of a product manager? What is the role of a product owner, all these kinds of things, but for me, it's more like, Okay, if you're start with product leadership, or are in a product leadership role for quite some time, and have never reflected on, okay, what's my personal benchmarks? How does the competent product person look like, on my end, then I would strongly encourage people to do so. Because that really unblocks you with all your one on ones and career conversations with your product folks, helps you to hire a great team of product people, if you have this kind of okay, that's the bar that I'm setting. And you have it not implicitly but explicitly in writing so that you can share it with your peers and directs. That is one of the important things. So to say. So this this definition of good, but it is maybe Randy, if it's okay to and I can a bit elaborate a bit more on that. So that is the people part of the head of product or product leadership role. And besides of the people part, there is the product part for sure. So what is the product strategy? Where are we headed direction of clarity, alignment, these are the things we're talking about here. So that for sure is something that a product leader should be able to do and to add to the product organisation. And it's a lot about processes. So I borrowed his metaphor from Jeff Redfern. That is, he's actually said that it's a bit like building the shipyard around the teams that are building the boats and the vessels and to ships. So how should this shipyard look like, what's the layout of the shipyard what material is needed, all these kind of things. So that's a nice metaphor for the process, part of the role. So it really is people process and product. And if a company not yet has found product market fit, you could actually, product and purpose could be something you experiment with. So maybe if you're like a early stage startup, and it's more about purpose, people, and process and product comes later, once you've found product market fit. That's really interesting. Randy Silver:  So we've had Jeff on the podcast, and he talked about that and reading your book again over the weekend, it was a long time ago is reading your book again over the weekend. And I was thinking about that metaphor a bit. And I was thinking about religion in relation to some of the jobs I've had. And from my perspective, I totally agree it's about building the shipyard it's about building the capability so that other people can build great products and do amazing work. But there's also potentially a problem with it at the level of our the peers of the product leader, which is they can say, Wow, that's a great shipyard you have there, it's a shame, the ships are so awful. You know, it's gotta produce good stuff. Right? So how do you? How do you balance that with, with your peers with the with the other members of the leadership team? Petra Wille:  Cool. It really depends you need to so that is something that you need to kind of really dive deep into, is it more of a conflict between the peers? Or is it really the case that exactly, that's why you need to have this definition of competent product manager. Because if you have this and if all your people are understanding the role and want the role and have the capacity that it takes to actually fulfil the role, and the ships are still a bet. And it's a completely different discussion you should be having with your peers, because then it's maybe about, okay, if the product people are competent and shewing, the engineering team does something similar and the interaction design folks do something similar and all the other roles that you're having are at this competent level, then it's more a processing thing you have to look into. And maybe it is just a case that nobody actually invested enough time in coaching the people around, or nobody actually really spent the time with the folks With proper onboarding and setting them up for success, and investing a bit in them, so that is often the case, I use this GW C framework in the book, which is like, gets it once it has the capacity to do it. So it's a bit of a reflection on a team that you could be doing. And if I think about, Okay, does this person get what the roll is all about? And the answer is no. And it's often on me, in my leadership role, that I haven't spend enough time with them to explain what we think a product person should do. And it actually works with old roles, right? It's not only a product, and then sometimes they understand it, but unwanted another thing, then you might find another seat for them. Or maybe it's a capacity thing. And that can be just like a mental capacity thing. Maybe they currently get divorced and don't have the bandwidth to do their best work with the team. And it's maybe a bit of Be patient and weighed. Or maybe it's just like a training that they need because of GDPR rules changed. And they don't have the capacity knowledge wise, and you could help fixing them that. And what about Lily Smith:  for those who are aspiring product leaders? What's a good sign that you're ready to take that next step into leadership? I mean, I know a lot of people who, you know, want to spend more time really honing the craft of like, the individual contributor product role, before they then become a product leader, but it is, it is quite a different role, actually. So yeah, you know, do you do you actually really need to be an amazing, individual contributor before you step into that leadership role? Petra Wille:  So so many product coaches of the last few years, I thought I have a pretty clear answer to that. But I learned that it's not that easy. It's always in product, right? It depends. So I saw really brilliant product leaders who never work in product. But they invested a lot of time in understanding how things actually work. They really like laid back letting their best product people do the work. So they have different management styles. So to say, didn't focus on this, okay, is there enough clarity and, and alignment in the system? Can I help to kind of foster these kind of things. So then they focus more on that and really focus on the coaching part, because coaching is not giving advice and help people to figure out what they should do next. It's more about asking the right question at the right time. And if you don't have that much product experience, I think there is still a way to go. But these people are born leaders to some extent, even if I say in the book, there is not such a thing, like a born leader, we all need to learn these things. But some people have more this natural tendency of being good, high EQ. So they're good communicators, they're good in handling tension, and all these kinds of things. So if that is a thing that is easier on you, and you're maybe not the best product person on the planet, I would still encourage people to maybe try to transform into a product leadership role. The biggest difference from my point of view is really this kind of, Am I ready to? Yeah, join the dark side, so to say, because there are so many decisions that you make in a leadership role, that that may be unpopular, hard to communicate on behalf of the company, not 100% on behalf of all the individual person on the team and stuff like this. And that is maybe the biggest change when you're actually moving in your first product leadership role. So you need to be ready for handling these kinds of things, I'd say. Randy Silver:  So how much of my time should I actually be spending on improving my people versus everything else that I need to be doing? And, you know, I'm an individual contributor in terms of how I work on developing strategy and any number of other things with my peers. But the team that reports me how much of my time should I be spending on on trying to improve them? And how should I do it? Petra Wille:  So what I think he really helps us kind of understand once you are in a leadership role, then you have role then you have impact through others. So you should not be the one creating all these things and pushing all the projects and all these kinds of things. It's more of okay, how can I set my team up for success? What information needs to flow freely so that they can picture the bright future that I can see for products and all these kind of things? Right? Yeah, and if we if we count all of that into coaching and direction setting and clarity, then it's more or less 100% of your time. You're repeating the same messages. over and over again, all these kinds of things, you're constantly investing in your teams in your people think about what? Yeah, what are the things that need to have at hand, where to apply a bit more structure, where to keep things more lean? So all these questions, so there is no really rule of thumb. But I see a lot of product leads not investing time with their product people at all. So that is actually something that I see a lot. one on ones are in the calendar, monthly, maybe bi weekly. But often people digital last minute or everybody comes unprepared. It's more of a complaining session. And if that sounds familiar, I would encourage you to, to really rethink this kind of one on one routine and really think about, okay, how could I help this person to become better, because if every product manager gets better at your team, then the whole product or organisation will evolve over time. And you might have the more attractive product organisations is super interesting these days when everybody's kind of leaving jobs and leaving their current employers roaming around looking for the next. Next company to join. So yeah, if you invest in your people, the people will be seeing this from the outside as well and are more likely to join. And if you invest in your people, the people that are already on board are more likely to stay with you. So it is I think, a good good investment. Lily Smith:  And let's talk about one to ones, because that is a real opportunity there to develop your your product people. And as a product person to get the most out of your head of product or your product leader that you're working with. What advice do you give people for this session? Like? How do you suggest people structure it? Petra Wille:  Um, I think there is. So there's various forms of come prepared. So to say, I think the so the easiest version of come prepared is really compile a list of great questions that help spark meaningful conversation wants to do a one on one situation. So a lot of a lot of products that I know have this kind of 15 to 20 questions that they could use when they need to run to a one on one because it's usually what we do, right? So time is a scarce resource. So we've run to a one on one. Try not to miss them and digital last minute. And it's way better to have kind of 15 to 20 meaningful questions that could help start more of a coaching situation and not so much. Okay, what are currently working on. So the status report character of the one on ones is something that I try to avoid as often as possible. I think they're better formats for updates, like create a product task board and stand ups so that the teams can kind of update each other, and you get the information as well. So focus more on, hey, what have you learned this week? Are you happy with that? Is there a next big challenge that you're dreaming about or all these so questions like this could be something on your list, and helps you to prepare last minute. So that's the first thing I usually recommend preparing the last minute preparation fix. And then the other thing is like if you have a bit more time, and I really think it makes sense to create your competent Product Manager compass so that you have something that actually you could discuss in a one on one sessions to identify gaps that the people are having. And that's way easier if you have like, okay, that's what product people usually do in our company. And that's all of the things that you do. And there are two gaps here that we might want to discuss. Are you interested in that? Or do you think it's not applicable to your current setup, maybe that might be the case as well. And if you found this gaps and something both parties would like to work on, so to say, then you could create a future self with your product, folks, because sometimes it's super hard to have to think about ways to learn a new thing or to improve a certain skill, or, yeah, to unlearn reflexes that we all having maybe. And that is really nice if you create some kind of a development plan with them, and then ask them how often they want you to follow up on that. So bit of nudging, but it's totally on them to learn something new to build a new skill capability or competence. But you could help with the nudging with a bit of the framing with the time you invest in these conversations. So that is but that is then the real one on one more strategical one on one people development format, so to say, Lily Smith:  yeah, I really like that. I imagine there's lots of people who could really do with a helping hand on the structure, and I think it's often used as an opportunity to update or kind of dictate. This is what you need to do next. instead, yeah, explore more of these topics. Yeah, Petra Wille:  maybe there's one thing I can add. And it's kind of I just like wrote a blog post last week or something that is about product management assessments, and not so much for assessing the whole team and compare all the individuals against each other. It's more about you in a product leadership role. Compare this person to your competent Product Manager definition. And I created such a framework, I call it the pm wheel, it's actually on my website, you can download the PDF, but I blogged about other frameworks that are out there. So that you have a starting point for these conversations, sometimes it's super hard to come up with that on your own, and then just use one of the assessments out there, and just like highly customise it to your needs, and then that could be something you could be using in these conversations. And we've talked a lot Lily Smith:  about the human side of being a product manager. But earlier, you kind of implied that, you know, we're looking at process and priority and it's quite operational as well. When I say human, I mean, they're the kind of people people manage people management, Petra Wille:  and stakeholder management, maybe as well. Lily Smith:  Yeah, exactly. So that, is there anything else if you are gonna explore sort of the topic of what makes a great boss or a great product leader? Is there anything else that kind of comes under that heading that we haven't sort of touched on? Petra Wille:  Yeah, so product people. So talking about individual contributors still and Product Manager wise, I usually advise people that I think about, okay, personality trades they actually looking for when they go search for product people. So that is one thing. And for example, for me, and this is something you should, it's your own reflection again, right. But just to give you an example. So for me this kind of curiosity, I'm always interested to see this kind of light in the eye of a product person if they get tasked with something new, or a new product or new market industry that they're looking into. Because that is usually what all of us are interested in, right? What makes the world go round. So to say, or adaptability is something that I always try to find is because things are changing at a really rapid speeds when working in product. And if people are not good and dealing with that, maybe they will never become really like a stellar product person or something like that. Not that they cannot be a decent product manager. But if you want to build a great team, maybe your your should hire, so to say. So that is one thing. So think about personality traits in your product people. And then when you said like when thinking about a great boss, and what we actually would look for when we think about that, and to me, it is like what you already said. So that's really be a human being moslem for all. I think that's what the great leaders are all have in common. So that is important than to me, it always was important to be opinionated, but super adaptable. So I always found it super hard to work with bosses that had this kind of, I don't mind you figure it out attitudes. For me, it was easy if they had a strong opinion. But then we're really happy to negotiate and to discuss and to learn new things about the thing where they had an opinion about, then it's a lot of sounds super old school, but the leading by example thing. So if you want your people to be on time, try to be on time and really kind of Yeah, thankful that everybody was on time and not wasting anybody's time and these kind of things. healthy attitude towards work, I think is what makes a great boss as well. So really, yeah, really have two great performance cultures. So you love to do great products on behalf of your customers that make the company successful or good. But all of us have a life as well. So really balanced that and make sure that people understand that it's kind of work life balance thing. And another thing that I think right product leaders should have is an impact on the overall company or organisation. That's not something that you usually have to focus on when you still are on an individual contributor level. For sure you talk to stakeholders, and maybe you have a positive impact on on them. But if you're in a product leadership role, you should actually yeah, be in line with your peers spend a lot of time with them. Try to unblock the product organisation, the Product Development Organisation in some sort of form. So yeah, that are the things that I Just come to my mind, Randy Silver:  let's, let's go a little bit into that and might come back to the pm wheel a little bit as well. So if you're trying to unblock as the leader, when you're assessing how well your product team is doing, you can look at it from the perspective of all those different things on the wheel. But also knowing that the perception of them by some of their stakeholders is simply going to be based on delivery. And sometimes the circumstance is such that its delivery is really hard for any number of reasons. Have you evaluate people who might be doing a great job, but for whatever reason, aren't actually delivering a business result? Are they still a good product manager? Petra Wille:  Yeah, so do you attack? Yeah, that is so hard question. Randy. I'm sorry. Yeah, no, it's good. Um, the short answer is no. Because as a product person you're ultimately responsible for, for the results. But as you were saying, there's so many things it, especially the larger the organisation gets, the harder it is to make an impact as a single product person. And sometimes it's easy to be tasked with a product that has tonnes of technical depth, for example. And then, yeah, to make the smallest change for your customers, or clients takes ages. But usually, if that is the case, that applies for most of the teams in this company, right. So benchmarking, some benchmarking across industries or something like this. That is something I would totally not recommend people like to do this. But it is not helpful. So benchmarking in your own product organisation may be an okayish idea. But to me, it was always better to have this kind of individual take on. Yeah, assessing product people, because I know what team I put them in, if that is part of my job. So stuffing is not always on the menu. I know. But if I have decided who will be working on which team, then it can, to some extent is my responsibility to actually kind of, yeah, take this into account when I do a benchmarking as well, right. And look, a lot of the companies that I know do do this kind of across the team across boards, but not really with heart figures. It's more of a discussion how people are doing and what obstacles they actually have to face and what are the monsters in their code base and these kinds of things. So yeah, benchmarking is a dangerous piece, so to say. So I'm not sure if I'm a big fan of benchmarking. Lily Smith:  I was just think, trying to choose which questions for our sticks, because we're like running out of time already. I was like, looking at the clock going, I can't believe it's nearly Petra Wille:  Okay, pick your Joker question. Lily Smith:  Yeah, exactly. So if I think about some of the different organisations like I've generally worked in quite small organisations, probably the biggest product team was around eight product people. But I know some of the people that we've spoken to on the podcast literally have 10s of if not hundreds of product people, by some way, shape or form reporting into them. How do you manage effectively across scale when in a product organisation? And I realised that's a massive question? Take your pick, maybe one tip. Petra Wille:  The thing is, I would love to talk to people that figured out how to have effective with we have more than six to maximum 10 direct reports in the product role, where you have to take care of the product, the process and the people. So some companies split those three and then other people are responsible for product strategy. So for example, in really mature product organisation, product managers are responsible for their product strategy, head of product or product leadership is not so much dealing with these things right, then it might be possible to have a larger span. I've just not yet seen it working well. Somewhere if you have too many direct reports. And then scaling is like in hierarchy, which is an really unpopular answer because it's really like okay, that's so management one to one point. If you talk about hierarchies and direct reports pyramid, so to say, but I haven't found a better answer yet. You could. So Some companies like to create a specialised roles across the board. So like product operations, or the QA department and the user research folks over here, that works to some extent as well, obviously, if you really make clear what these roles are responsible for, and every company, again, has to find their own definition. And to play a bit with these specialised roles, if you're not a big fan of specialised roles, yeah, then it's really in creating product team leads and helping them to become better product leaders as well, I guess. Yeah. But it's a massive question. And the short answer. Randy Silver:  Okay. Well, let's do one last question on this then. And because we really disciplined, fantastic, but we're going to run out of time really quickly. So when you're hiring, what are one or two things that you look for, you know, regardless of what the role is, regardless of what the company is, if you're looking for a product person, are there one or two things that you say I can, there are things I can teach, but there are things I need the person to, to just have any li Petra Wille:  Yeah, to me, it is kind of the six personality traits that I put on my list and asset you need to come up with your own. But to me, this is kind of curiosity was already talking about this, its adaptability to meet its intellectual horsepower. And so really want to see if the circuits are fast enough to kind of understand all the bits and pieces that every product person has to parse every day, so to say, and then it's Yeah, wants to make an impact. Because otherwise all this curiosity and adaptive adaptability takes us nowhere. So people need Yeah, to have this kind of, I really want to score to some extent. So that is an important thing. And then, is emotional intelligence, not forgetting to mention that plus, I still don't know how to put this best. It's kind of nice to spend time with or sometimes they call it humour. Because that helps a lot of people think like, okay, the product person is a great person to have on their team. And it's just, like, nice to hang out with them. That alone doesn't do the trick, I know. But in combination with the other five personality traits, plus the skills and competences I think that is at least a starting point. Randy Silver:  I'd be afraid to interview with you. I want to if you ever judged me as short on intellectual horsepower or any of those other traits, I feel awful. Petra Wille:  No, we would go we would go in front of a whiteboard and he would do a stellar job I'm convinced. Randy Silver:  I look forward to the day when we can get together in front of a why and do some of this code. Patrick, thank you so much for joining us in you know we mentioned in the introduction but the book is called strong product people A Complete Guide to developing great product managers available in better bookstores and websites everywhere and link to in our show notes along with lots of other fun things. Petra Wille:  Thanks for having me Randy Silver:  So Billy, I've been thinking petrous book you know strong product people. I think it's you know, if you haven't bought something for product people in your life, it's gonna make a great stocking stuffer, Lily Smith:  stocking stuffer. Don't you mean a stocking filler? And are you just like Mega hinting to me right now? Randy Silver:  Well, I've got a copy for myself already. So maybe I should put one for you. Lily Smith:  I would love one I actually don't have a copy yet. So that is right up there. The top of my next book to read thoroughly list. Randy Silver:  Excellent. Well, if you don't have it, please go do get a copy or hint to your boss or somebody in your life. Because it's a really good read. We'll see you next week. Tata for Lily Smith:  now. Haste, me, Lily Smith and Randy Silver:  me Randy silver. Lily Smith:  Emily Tate is our producer. And Luke Smith is our editor. Randy Silver:  Our theme music is from humbard baseband power that's P A you thanks to Ana killer who runs product tank and MTP engage in Hamburg and please based in the band for letting us use their music. Connect with your local product community via product tank or regular free meetups in over 200 cities worldwide. Lily Smith:  If there's no one near you, you can consider starting one yourself. To find out more go to mind the product.com forward slash product tank Randy Silver:  product tech is global community of meetups during buying for product people, we offer expert talks group discussion and a safe environment for product people to come together and share burnings and tips.